In the book of Daniel we learn about the vision that King Nebuchadnezzar had for Babylon. He wanted a select group of young men to learn the language and literature of Babylon so they would be prepared to serve in the King’s palace.
Among those men of Judah were three men by the names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They along with their friend Daniel became very well respected in the early part of their training because of their request to eat only vegetables and water instead of the rich food and wine from the King’s table. The result of a ten day trial of this food regimen was that they were better nourished and healthier than the others that partook of the royal food.
These three young Jews were themselves of royal or noble birth from the Kingdom of Judah and were known for their exclusive devotion to God. And as respected as they had become in the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar, these guys with the funny names got in some major trouble because they wouldn’t bow down to an idol the King had made.
To say King Neb was mad about this was an understatement. But he respected these guys and the work they were doing over the affairs of the province of Babylon. So he gave them another chance show their patriotism to him and Babylon, but as you can suspect they refused to bow down again.
They were actually quite bold in their response to him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18.
Wow! If they didn’t bow down they could lose their lives in a fiery furnace. The King was so mad that he was not only having them thrown in this furnace but he had instructed the pyromaniacs in his service to heat that furnace seven times hotter than usual.
So it begs the question, “What are you willing to die for?” These guys had a devotion to God that we don’t see too often today. They were willing to die for that devotion. And as I learned this past summer in South Africa, so was Pastor Gabriel – a member of our South Africa Ministry Planning Board.
Pastor Gabriel grew up in a Christian home with a dad that is a respected theologian among the Afrikaners of South Africa – a group descended from Dutch Calvinists and Germans. At eleven years old, Gabriel and his father had an exchange about apartheid that would set the course by how Gabriel would live his life.
Gabriel’s observation about apartheid was that he didn’t mind mixing with blacks but he felt they needed to understand their proper place and work under the whites. The wise theologian didn’t chastise Gabriel for what he had said but put this question to him, “What would Jesus think about what you just said?” And Gabriel became convicted by that question as he realized that Jesus would want people equal and not separate.
That exchange with his father at eleven set Gabriel on a path of activism in his country where he works diligently to create equality among all people of South Africa. He was an activist in University and even with apartheid dismantled in the 1990s, Gabriel continues to fight because racism in South Africa continues to linger on.
Just this past year, though, he found out that his bold stance on this might cost him and his family their lives. Gabriel serves a church in Delmas where we are committed to building in the black township of Botleng – outside of Johannesburg. A tragedy took place this past spring in a family that are members of his church. The gardener of this family who happened to be black murdered the nanny and the child of the family she cared for – who both happened to be white
The story was all over the news in South Africa causing the leading Neo Nazi group to descend on Delmas protesting these deaths. They were asking for an “eye for an eye” meaning that a black child should be sacrificed and die as well!
Gabriel was livid and began writing the papers telling the Neo Nazis that they weren’t welcome in Delmas to protest these tragedies. And he made it very clear that as unfortunate as these deaths were, they were the result of drugs and not an issue of race.
The Neo Nazis went so far to obtain Gabriel’s home phone number and called him one evening saying that they knew where he lived and that he had two lovely blonde children under the age of five. They suggested that one of his children could be the sacrifice instead.
Pastor Gabriel asked them to come to his church and discuss this with him. He hung up the phone that night with no assurances of what they were going to do. The next Sunday as he was preaching the Neo Nazi group entered the church and walked down the aisle toward him. As he shared with us, he felt that there was a good possibility that they had come to kill him in front of his congregation.
He kept preaching God’s word while looking their leader straight in the eye. And lo and behold the group sat down in a pew and Pastor Gabriel finished the service. Afterward they talked without coming to an agreement on the issue, but this intimidating group of Neo Nazis left Delmas alone after that day.
Wow! King Nebuchadnezzar put Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace only to see that their God had more power than he or his men had. And when Pastor Gabriel showed what he was willing to die for, a group of Neo Nazis in South Africa came face to face with the same God in the heart of Pastor Gabriel – and they too had to acknowledge that God had more power than they had!
During this Lenten season maybe we should be asking ourselves, “What am I willing to die for?” Jesus answered that question because of his love for us and for that we celebrate Easter!
P.S. Take a minute to check out our new video here!